The China-Laos railway, slated for completion by December, may bring the most dramatic shifts of any current infrastructure project in Southeast Asia as it transforms communities along its route and changes the dynamics of Laos’ economy. Offering an alternative to Laos’ reliance on hydropower dams for economic development, it could also become increasingly significant for China.
Belt and Road Initiative
Malaysia and Singapore have finally canceled a fraught high-speed rail line from Kuala Lumpur to the island city-state. The two governments reportedly could not reach an agreement after Malaysia pushed to modify the project yet again over financial concerns.
Foreign investment projects worth billions of dollars are poised to transform Laos’ Vang Vieng in spite of local opposition and the government’s precarious public debt. The area, known for its natural beauty, falls along the route of a new Chinese railway and is one of many projects in Laos under China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The banned Filipino communist party has ordered its armed wing to attack Chinese firms in the country, saying Beijing’s infrastructure projects are displacing thousands and harming natural resources. The party’s actions could complicate Manila’s relationships with Beijing.
The Dawei SEZ in Myanmar, set to be Southeast Asia’s largest industrial zone, is progressing once again despite years of instability and uncertainty. The pandemic also makes it nearly impossible for developers and the government to meet with local residents to answer basic questions about the impacts and benefits of the project.
A new deal gives China control of Laos’ power grid as the country faces looming debt from hydropower dams and other development projects. But the arrangement risks turning “the battery of Southeast Asia” into “the battery of China.”
The Shwe Kokko development on the Thai-Myanmar border faces a cloud of controversy over land grabs, illegal activity, gambling and local indigenous opposition to the project.
Construction has resumed on the new US$6 billion China-Laos railway, a key piece of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, despite the deep impacts of COVID-19 across the region. But as the pandemic brings new questions about sustainable growth and resilience, it’s changing the calculus for the governments and local communities that host China’s new development projects.
Laos borrowed heavily from China to finance key infrastructure and development projects. Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith claims the debts are manageable. Is he right?